Vail Mountain School defeats Hayden to advance to second round of 2A District 5 tournament
Gore Rangers will face Vail Christian in District 5 semifinal on Friday
Vail Mountain School may have only had eight boys in the lineup Tuesday night, but it was more than enough for the task at hand. The Gore Rangers defeated Hayden 39-34 in the first round of the 2A District 5 tournament, setting up a semifinal battle against No. 1-seeded Vail Christian Friday night at 4:30 p.m.
“We have some new starters who have stepped up,” said Gore Ranger head coach Caleb Florence, who is without two of his starters being that Vail Mountain is in the middle of intraterm. The mid-winter school tradition, which allows students “intensive explorations of subjects beyond the regular curriculum,” often includes travel locally or internationally.
“We’re working through it and it’s still a dangerous starting five,” Florence said of his squad. “They’re great athletes and I think we’re still learning to play together and learning to execute for four quarters.”
Hayden came out with a bit more bite than expected considering its 67-29 loss to Vail Mountain on Jan. 20. The Tigers trailed the Gore Rangers by nine, 23-14, in a low-scoring first half. In the third quarter, the Gore Rangers interior strength and size cultivated a 30-17 lead, but Hayden fought back, bringing things to within eight with a 5-0 run of its own.
“I thought they shot the ball well on the outside tonight,” Florence said of the visitors, who refused to go away. “They were prepared for our zone and moved a lot of guys through and we didn’t communicate as well defensively as we could have.”
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The Gore Rangers’ slick passing against Hayden’s 2-3 zone was a bright spot early in the third quarter. Christian Mills found a baseline-running Spencer Hurd on a high-low action pass to make it 32-22 with under a minute remaining in the period. If anything, it almost seemed like the Gore Rangers were a little too unselfish, occasionally passing up an open look down low to make an extra pass.
“I think we moved the ball well tonight,” Florence said. “I think we passed up some good looks for some great looks that we didn’t convert on and I think moving forward, we’re still kind of looking for that one guy to step up in the fourth quarter,” he continued.
“So, encouraging guys to find their role and be confident with that and know it’s OK to not necessarily find the perfect shot, but you know, be comfortable with a good shot.”
Late in the fourth, Hayden guard Grady Frentress decided to make things interesting. With three minutes to go, he cut the deficit to 37-31 with a free throw. Thirty-seconds later, he drained a 3-pointer, then stole the ball to give Hayden possession, trailing 37-34. After a loose-ball tussle, a technical foul was called on Vail Mountain’s Turner Ringler, giving Hayden its dream scenario.
Tiger guard Cale Howard couldn’t convert from the charity stripe, however, and the Gore Rangers came back on offense. With the Tigers out of their zone defense and chomping for an anticipatory steal on every pass, Mason Geller drove backdoor against an overzealous Tiger defender, laying in a clutch right-handed layup with 50 seconds to go.
“Mason is a great athlete,” Florence said of the soccer, lacrosse and basketball player.
“He came through in the clutch and tapped into his ability to execute as an athlete and reacted to the defense, made a move to the basket and kind of gave us that final cushion.”
After a defensive stop on the ensuing possession, the Gore Rangers were able to run out the clock.
“I was proud they buckled down in the fourth quarter and executed when we needed to,” Florence said of his team. “A win is a win, and it wasn’t the prettiest win, but I’m proud of my guys for not throwing in the towel.”
The Gore Rangers will play Vail Christian at 4:30 p.m. in De Beque on Friday in the district semifinals, a rematch of last year’s district championships, which the Gore Rangers won. “We’ve got some wrinkles for them,” Florence said of facing the down valley rivals, who beat the Gore Rangers 64-47 on Feb. 7. “We’re going to throw everything we’ve got at them.”